Signs of a rare molecule called phosphine were found in the extremely acidic atmosphere of Venus, astronomers announced Monday.
That could provide a significant clue about the likelihood of life.
On our planet, phosphine molecules are usually the result of industrial activity or by actions of microbes that survive in oxygen-free environments.
Still, the scientists aren’t claiming that life was detected on Venus, but the observations might mean that there is some microbial activity in the planet’s upper layers, away from its hostile surface.
Jane Greaves, a professor at the Cardiff University in the UK and lead author of the report posted in Nature Astronomy, stated:
“We have detected a rare gas called phosphine in the atmosphere of our neighbor planet Venus.”
“And the reason for our excitement is that phosphine gas on Earth is made by microorganisms that live in oxygen-free environments. And so there is a chance that we have detected some living organism in the clouds of Venus,” she added.
Still, the team says that further studies are needed to back up any claim, as impressive as it is.
“In order to make this quite extraordinary claim that there might be life there, we really have to rule everything out, and that’s why we’re very cautious saying we’re not claiming there’s life, but claiming there’s something that is really unknown and it might be life,” stated William Bains, team member and researcher at MIT.
Sara Seager, an MIT scientist who analyzes exoplanet atmospheres, also highlighted that the team doesn’t claim that they found life on Venus.
“We are claiming the confident detection of phosphine gas whose existence is a mystery,” she added.